Service hour change draws confusion

Jessica Gallo, Reporter

Middle school students will no longer be able to earn up to 20 indirect service hours that count towards their graduation requirement as a result of a policy change that went into effect at the beginning of the 2018-2019 school year. Only recently have students become aware of the change.

When freshman Kaylee Fellner started middle school, her class had the ability to earn up to 20 indirect hours in middle school. Fellner completed 20 indirect hours with Friendship Circle by the time she started high school.

“I think it’s really helpful to be able to have that start in middle school,” Fellner said. “I feel like the more time you have, the more time you have to complete [the hours] and do things that you actually like to do instead of cramming them in [in] three years.”

CESJDS began an 80-hour community service requirement in the early 1990s. The administration requires that students complete those hours by the time they start applying to college or else their transcripts will not be sent. At least 40 hours must be direct, where students work with people in need, and 40 can be indirect, where students serve the community as a whole.

Maryland was the first state to require community service hours for graduation. The requirement went into effect in 1993 and is currently set at 75 hours. School districts are allowed to tailor programs to their own needs. In Montgomery County Public Schools, for instance, students are allowed to earn and complete their hours following the completion of fifth grade up until the end of their senior year, differing from JDS.

When the class of 2021 began middle school, the administration adjusted the community service policy to include the 20 hours earned in middle school. The previous policy did not count any hours that students completed in middle school for their total high school requirement. However, beginning this year with the class of 2025, the administration reversed the policy back to what it used to be: All hours must be completed during high school.

“The community service requirement is also a graduation requirement which means that all hours should be completed in high school,” Dean of Students Roslyn Landy said. Landy raised the policy change idea at an administration meeting where there was an overall agreement to make the change.

Nicole Nydish, a parent of both a middle school and a high school student, said the change could make it harder for students to complete their required hours but does not feel that the change will greatly impact her son Dylan, who is in sixth grade. “I think there’s always pros and cons to policy changes, but Dylan would be doing community service anyway in middle school and in high school, so I don’t really know if it would have a major impact on him,” Nydish said.

Sixth-grader Etai Even feels that he will be able to complete all of his hours when he gets to high school, but still wishes he had the opportunity to complete some of them while he is in middle school. “I think I can complete 80 hours in all of high school,” Even said. “I would’ve rather have been able to do it in both [middle school and high school] and get it over with.”

Although Landy sees how having the ability to earn 20 hours towards the high school requirement would be easier for both parents and students when in middle school, she feels the benefits and effects on students will be greater when they are working and completing all their hours in high school.

“Students who do community service in middle school certainly gain good experience from their commitment,” Landy said. “That said, students in high school are at a different stage in their development and are better able to foster more meaningful relationships with the populations they are serving.”

This story was featured in the Volume 36, Issue 6 print edition of The Lion’s Tale, published on May 23, 2019.